Not so fun while it lasted
If you’re not familiar with Rocket Lawyer, we’ll save you the suspense: Rocket Lawyer is a company backed by Google Venture Projects, which until recently, was tapping into the well of the American Bar Association. Problem is, it was also tapping into the referral networks of small practices and solo firms, putting a long-held system in jeopardy. If you’re the founder of a small firm like I am, that should worry you. And not for financial reasons.
The ABA partnered with Rocket Lawyer in October, establishing a now-defunct pilot project called ABA Law Connect, part of a system that allows small business owners an opportunity to associate with ABA lawyers by asking questions through an online-powered network. The idea: business owners pay a $4.95 service fee in order to ask a question and a follow-up question, then negotiate terms of further service. Whether that means meeting in-person, offline via text message, I’m not sure. I am sure, though, that the ABA faced a lot of criticism for Law Connect, forcing the association to reconsider. The Illinois and Pennsylvania state bar associations came out in strong opposition, calling it a “blue plate special” approach and threatening to diminish a network that many of us rely on to build relationships and establish trust with our clients.
Rocket Lawyer would have you believe that anyone opposed to ABA Law Connect is simply concerned with one thing: money. Ironically, it’s Rocket Lawyer that was primed to make a pretty penny. I recently read about the demise of the pilot program, which the ABA dutifully nixed earlier in January after the subsequent pushback. I read this quote from Rocket Lawyer founder and CEO Charley Moore: “We are disappointed that a few individuals chose protecting their lawyer referral revenue and high fees, over innovation, fair competition and the public’s need for wider access to attorney advice.”
All things considered, it seems like a rather shallow comment. The business of referrals, at least in our case, has never been about the fees. If it were, I’d have run my firm into the ground by now. Practices like ours don’t charge for consultation, and like most firms, our fees are contingent on the recovery. Referrals are just minor pieces of a much bigger puzzle.
Moore mentions “fair competition.” But is his model fair? Rocket Lawyer promotes ABA Law Connect as a tool for “easy access,” though I would argue that two questions could hardly be considered accessible. One of the benefits of meeting an attorney face-to-face is having a chance to ask questions and build a foundation. Consider all the legal complexities of any given case; asking two questions is almost as good as saying Hello and Goodbye. Most people would have better luck picking up the phone, dialing an attorney and scheduling a meeting to get the full scope of their situation.
The failure of ABA Law Connect isn’t about an aversion to innovation, it’s about a product that was flawed from the start. Worse, Rocket Lawyer has decided to blame attorneys for its shortcomings. Maybe it’s time Rocket Lawyer looked into a mirror.